Jordanian Protesters Take to the Streets

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Officials of the pro-Western Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan became the latest Middle Eastern leaders to deal with major demonstrations against them.

More than 5,000 protesters took to the streets of Amman and other Jordanian cities on Friday, decrying rising food costs, corruption and demanding the government resign.

Demonstrators carried banners that read, "No to Oppression, Yes to Change."

"[Prime Minister Samir] al-Rafi out, out," the protesters chanted.

"The people of Jordan will not bow. Our demands are legitimate. We want bread and freedom," they shouted.

On Thursday, al-Rifai announced a $283 million plan to raise salaries of government workers and increase retirees' pensions. Minimum monthly wage in Jordan is $211, with government-estimated unemployment rates at 14 percent and others claiming it's as high as 30 percent.

Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Ayman Safadi told The Jordan Times over the weekend the government is open to "constructive and healthy" dialogue.

"Dialogue is the only way to find solutions to any problem that emerges," Safadi said. "We are open to any suggestions or views. We are ready to sit down and talk to any party as long as this is in the service of the country. We have our terms of reference in the laws in effect and the Constitution," he said.

Two days before, Safadi participated in a televised debate with Hamzah Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The IAF is the Hashemite Kingdom's largest opposition group.

According to media reports, the two debated prevailing economic conditions, government policy and reform and living conditions.

Jordan is not the only Middle Eastern country coping with mass demonstrations since Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14.

On Friday, several participants of a pro-democracy rally in Algeria were injured by police. Earlier this month, five people were killed and an estimated 800 injured when police cracked down on protests against rising costs and unemployment.

Following the demonstrations, the government lowered prices on some basic commodities, such as oil and sugar, while promising to continue subsidizing flour and other products.

In Yemen, thousands of demonstrators protested proposed government reforms, including term limits for the president, which they said didn't go far enough. Some carried signs reading "Leave before You Are Forced to Leave."

Leader of the opposition and head of the Islamist party, Islah, Mohammed al-Sabry, said "we want constitutional amendments…that don't lead to the continuance of the ruler and inheritance of power to their children."

Like his Tunisian counterpart, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in power for more than three decades. Yemen holds the dubious distinction of being the Arab world's poorest country.

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